Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer with an institution that is a true asset for our state. This is my first year serving as part of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) admissions committee. It certainly will not be my last.
What is OSSM? In short, it is one of the economic engines that is helping build Oklahoma’s future. It is a statewide public school for students in the 11th and 12th grade who are gifted in Math and Science…really gifted! You should have seen some of their test scores.
According to the OSSM website:
The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM) was created through legislative action in 1983 and graduated its first class of 44 seniors from across the state in 1992. It is designed as a two-year residential public high school for the academically gifted students in mathematics and science.
The school currently has 71 juniors, 63 seniors and an ultimate enrollment estimated at 300.
The late Dr. Julian Stanley of Johns Hopkins University, a nationally known expert on gifted education, called the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, “the most rigorous academic program of its kind in the nation.” here.
Since its first graduating class in 1992, a total of 1,024 students have now graduated from OSSM. Of those students 264 have been National Merit Finalists, and 152 were National Merit Commended Scholars. Three graduates have been named National Presidential Scholars. OSSM has had nine semifinalists and 98 nominees for the Presidential Scholars Program. If that isn’t impressive enough, two students in the Class of 2000, two in the Class of 2001, and three in the Class of 2002, were selected for the U.S. Chemistry Olympiad Team. In 2000, one went on to compete internationally for the United States and won a bronze medal; in 2001, a silver. Two 2002 graduates competed internationally to secure a gold medal and a bronze medal for the United States. There are too many other accomplishments to list, but look at them
We should be very proud of all of these contributions that Oklahoma is able to make to our country. However, pride and trophies (even international ones in science and math) are not what we are getting for our tax dollars. Students from all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties have been selected to attend OSSM and more than half of them are from communities with populations of fewer than 10,000. OSSM gives these gifted students the ability to thrive in an educational environment that opens a world of possibilities to them. The time has now come where we are able to see some of the return on our investment in these gifted young Oklahomans.
As I was talking to Paul Shinn,a former fiscal director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives who is working with OK Policy as a consultant, about the interview process, he filled me in on some of the behind the scenes history of the funding for OSSM. Paul was working at the Capitol in the early nineties, a time when the Oklahoma budget situation was in very bad shape. The inclination was to cut funding for OSSM and it was a fight to keep OSSM in the state’s budget. Now that time has passed, we can look at the results of the decisions that were made then.
In information I received from OSSM, it is reported that more than one-half of OSSM graduates are still involved in completing their educational and professional training. After all, the school only graduated its first class in 1992. Even with half of the graduates not out of high school long enough to have a degree yet, we are already seeing returns on our investment. The following achievements are descriptive of those students who have been out of OSSM long enough to complete at least one degree:
The economic impact of the ten businesses started in Oklahoma by OSSM alumni and by the over 50 percent of graduates who are working in Oklahoma is our reward. It is our return on our investment. We can look back now and see the long-term advantages of investing in Oklahoma, rather than following the short-term instinct to cut programs when the state budget gets tight. The efforts to keep OSSM funding intact in the early 90’s has allowed Oklahoma to build an asset that will benefit our state for decades to come.